Not long after, you had the fateful experience which prompted the lyrics to the song Black Sabbath. What do you remember about that?
“By this point, I’d moved out of my mum’s house and got a flat with my girlfriend. I was really interested in black magic and painted my entire room black, with inverted crucifixes all over the place. It was back when we were called Polka Tulk and Ozzy had brought me this black magic book in Latin or something. We had a few joints and he left me with it. Later that night, I put the book in the airing cupboard outside on the landing, and I went to bed. I woke up scared to death, there was this big black shape looking in at me. Whether it was a dream or not, who knows, but it was very real at the time. I got really frightened by it all. I immediately got up and associated it with the book Ozzy had given me, but the book had vanished! I told Ozzy the next day and that’s how he came up with the lyrics for Black Sabbath.”
After that, Ozzy pretty much left all the lyrics to you. Did that please you?
“I was quite good at literature at school and got an A Level in English. In fact, I think I was the only one in the band who could read and write! I thought the lyrics to Black Sabbath weren’t that great to be honest, especially the ‘Satan’s coming ’round the bend’ bit. I always felt that was a bit weird. Ozzy would come up with off-the-cuff lyrics when we were writing the rest of that album. Of course, they didn’t make much sense, so it was left to me to sort the lyrics out.”
Your religious upbringing would inspire many of Sabbath’s lyrics, although you also ended up needing to wear crosses after being hexed by a cult. How did that come about?
“Because I was brought up strict Catholic, I was a bit of a religious maniac as a kid. When everyone else used to buy Lone Ranger guns, I’d be saving for medals of Jesus and rosary beads! After a couple of albums, the head warlock in England got in touch and said somebody from the black magic community had put a curse on us, and the only way to ward it off was to wear crosses. So we did. We couldn’t afford to buy them, though I probably had about three million collected over my childhood, so Ozzy’s dad made us those Sabbath crosses. I still have the original aluminium one, but later on we had some gold ones made. I actually lost mine at Villa Park, of all places.”
You’ve often pointed out that 1973’s fifth album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was when the band started to get lost in the excess. Why?
“Originally, we all liked smoking weed, but we didn’t have enough money then to be able to afford the other stuff. So the more money we got, the more drugs we could afford. It started around our first American tour on [1970 album] Paranoid, then we wrote Sweet Leaf on [1971’s] Master Of Reality, we were all heavily smoking dope on that album. [1972 album] Vol. 4 is when we got into cocaine…”
What was the craziest trip you’ve ever had?
“I think we did the Poynton Jazz Festival and this girl had given Ozzy this tablet. She said it was for the four of us and we should divide it up, but I ended up taking it all. Nothing happened for a while, then I got home and my crosses started melting. I could see snakes coming out of the walls and everything. The next day we had a gig in Leamington Spa, right in the middle of this park, and as we drove through I could see all these flowers trying to get into the car! When we got onstage, I thought we were on a boat. The spotlights were the portholes of the boat and the crowd were the waves of the sea. It was like I was watching my fingers playing, but they had a mind of their own. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I got through the gig.”